Bodies of Water by V.H Leslie
I’ve been looking forward to this since it was announced, so I was very pleased that it lived up to all my expectations. I love the subtle, chilly kind of horror Leslie so often deals in – creepy, pervasive unease which seems to originate at the very core of the story. Parallel narratives are linked via the imposing Wakewater House, almost more an entity than a building, like the Overlook Hotel with its angry ghosts and unquiet spirits. There is a strong thread of femaleness in this story, from historical abuses and dismissals of women who do not (or cannot) conform to the connections women make, whether it be the tragic (and touching) love between Evelyn and Milly, or the conspiratorial friendship of Kirsten and Manon. Leslie’s smart, sensitive prose and clever plotting make for a fantastic read.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
I have nothing against YA fiction – I actually quite enjoy a lot of it. I don’t quite understand how The Lie Tree ended up classed as YA fiction, however – is it because the protagonist is a young woman? The story itself is incredibly dark and thematically mature, especially from a theological perspective, but that’s no bad thing – and quite honestly it’s great that young people have access to this kind of story, which doesn’t patronise or coddle. The Lie Tree, like Bodies of Water, is an interesting commentary on the historical roles and limitations of women, and on overcoming these through strength of will. The central premise – a plant which feeds on the propagation of a lie and rewards the liar with visions of a particular truth – is brilliantly imaginative and and also a little terrifying. And the sense of place is wonderful.
Under The Skin by Michael Faber
I find myself divided about this. Part of me liked it very much – the deliberate ambiguity of the setup is very clever, as is the subtlety of the worldbuilding. For a long time, you’re not entirely sure what the nature of Isserley and her situation actually is. There’s genuine tension every time Isserley picks up a hitchhiker, and the deterioration of her emotional state adds to this. But I felt it was also heavy-handed at times, not least with its allusions to the meat industry and to capitalist society (and I say this as a socialist vegetarian!) There’s a lot to like here, and the imagination of it is undeniably brilliant, but it fell short in some areas for me.
The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest
The debut novel by south London poet and musician Kate Tempest, of whom I am admittedly already a fan. Kate’s lyrical prose will either delight or irritate, and the bluntness of her storytelling might not appeal to everyone, but I found it brilliantly authentic and relevant, a heartfelt and honest tale of three individuals and their very human flaws, the way they orbit one another and the collisions that ensue. There’s a fairly standard plot involving drug deals gone wrong, but the real magic is in the way the characters interact and speak to one another.